BFA FAIRFAX ELEMENTARY DRUMS INTO 2019!

As we enter 2019, BFA Fairfax Elementary students are being treated to an exciting new learning opportunity.  Through the collaborative work of Elementary Physical Education teacher Heather Weeks and Elementary Music teacher Sarah Wolff, BFA Fairfax students are literally marching to their own beat through the “Drums Alive” program.  

Drums Alive combines aerobic movements with the beat and rhythms of drums.  However, rather than beating an actual drum, students use drumsticks to beat an exercise ball placed on top of a bucket.  This new activity which is gaining popularity not only in schools, but fitness gyms around the country, combines musical skills with kinesthetic awareness, neuromuscular skills, cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, strength, and most importantly FUN!

Our students are in day 2 of the two-week program, and the excitement is palpable and contagious.  Students can be seen moving throughout the gym, playing their drums to music, laughing, smiling, and eagerly awaiting the next cue.  Teachers and students alike are thrilled to take part in this fun and exciting new offering. Thank you Ms. Weeks and Ms. Wolff for introducing this new and beneficial cross-curricular activity to our school!

THE FWSU STORY: Meet Cathy O’Brien, Fletcher’s Wellness Rockstar!

Note: In late 2017, Fletcher Elementary’s STEM Teacher Leader, Denette Locke, recognized Fletcher Kindergarten Teacher, Cathy O’Brien’s, journey to wellness with a nomination for the “Wellness Rockstar” designation from the Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust (VSBIT). Below is the profile VSBIT created to recognize Mrs. O’Brien’s inspirational story. 

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Fletcher Elementary Kindergarten Teacher, Cathy O’Brien was recently recognized as a Wellness Rockstar by Vermont School Boards Insurance Trust.

“Catherine O’Brien exemplifies the definition of wellness and is a rock star extraordinaire,” said Denette Locke, one of her colleagues in the Fletcher School classroom on the day we visited. “She is a powerful role model who has demonstrated how valuable making good choices and taking care of one’s health can truly be.”

O’Brien has been an integral part of the educational community for the past 24 years and in the classroom, she instills an environment for learning for all,” said Locke. “She engages her students in practicing mindfulness activities, yoga and a variety of other fitness routines to help them succeed socially, emotionally and academically.”

Ms. O'Brien regularly incorporates physical movement into the classroom.

Ms. O’Brien regularly incorporates physical movement into the classroom.

“I do lots of (physical) exercises in school with my students because I know it helps their brains,” said O’Brien. “And as a result, several parents are supporting more movement for their children. “

O’Brien has served in various capacities, first as a kindergarten teacher, then as a first and second-grade teacher, and this year she is working with kindergarten students once again.

“There was never any question about my career, “O’Brien said as she laughed. “I knew I was destined to be a teacher because I’m surrounded by family members who are teachers.”

At three years of age, O’Brien received a diagnosis of Type I Diabetes.  “Though in my youth, I ate what I wanted. I now focus on eating foods low in fat … and have become quite invested in fitness.  For a long time I had put myself on the back burner and was not taking care of myself,” she said.  “Eventually, I recognized that had to change because, as a diabetic, I need regular exercise to regulate my blood sugar.”

Her foray into fitness began with a Jazzercise class.

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Cathy enjoys various forms of exercise including Pilates.

“I was extremely apprehensive about group exercise classes,” she said, reminiscing. “Now, I love them and am a big part of the Peace of Mind Pilates Studio in Essex that one of my good friends owns.  I clean the studio and teach some of the classes. Three to five times a week I participate in Pilates, Barre, TRX, and yoga.”

In the warmer months, you might find O’Brien on a paddleboard practicing yoga poses or standing on her head. “I like being upside down,” she said.

O’Brien is anything but upside down most of the time. She’s moving throughout her classroom and is available to serve as a resource for staff seeking guidance about improving their fitness and reducing their stress. She also coordinates the annual staff wellness initiative at Fletcher.

As a Wellness Rockstar, Cathy O’Brien is a role model for staff and students alike!

Congratulations to Cathy O'Brien, Wellness Rockstar!

Cathy O’Brien is a positive role model for her students and colleagues. 

Congratulations, Cathy!

THE FWSU STORY: Community Partners Come Together to Provide Two-Day Wellness Learning Opportunity for FWSU Educators

This year FWSU held the second annual Professional Learning Institutes on November 20 and 21. Teachers, community partners, and consultants offered a range of 2-day institutes focused on professional learning reflective of both supervisory union and school-based goals that align with our 4 Vision-to-Action Targets: Proficiency-based Personalized Learning, Leadership, Flexible Learning Environments, and Engaged Community Partners. The following post describes just one of the 13 sessions FWSU educators could choose. Bonnie Poe, FWSU’s Prevention & Wellness Coordinator, facilitated the Institute.

Wellness Habits

Wellness Habits

FWSU teachers, nurses, and guidance counselors learned about a variety of tools and how to use them to build and support sustainable well-being for their students and themselves at one of FWSU’s 2-day professional learning institutes.

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Wellness matters!

The Institute, Building a Sustainable Approach to Well-being in Schools for Teachers and Students, presented a variety of wellness practices. Not every tool and strategy presented during the 2 days was expected to be implemented by every participant; one size does not fit all — that is fine. Instead, the emphasis was placed on reflective practice: which tools did educators think would work for their classroom, individual students, and for themselves. To make this work, numerous community members and agencies share their wellness expertise with teachers through multiple presentations during November 20 – 21. After each presentation, participants were given time to reflect on why and how something they just learned about might be used with their students or themselves.

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Jessica Frost, RiseVT

Jessica Frost, RiseVT Wellness Specialist, demonstrated how to use yoga in the classroom and shared how and when to use it as a calming tool to reduce stress and anxiety, helping students be more available to learn. She also gave each participant a yoga mat and yoga cards to use with students.

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Nathan Wiles, master labyrinth architect

Nathan Wiles, a master labyrinth designer and builder, shared how walking a labyrinth takes practice, but over time can have a calming impact on those who choose to use it. He included numerous ideas and guidance on how and when to use the labyrinth with students. Teachers participated in walking an indoor labyrinth. One teacher shared, “I was halfway around the first circle and thought that this wasn’t working for me. However, I thought about how my students sometimes don’t want to try something. So, I reset how I was thinking and finished the labyrinth.” This session had particular meaning for GEMS participants. Last year, a team of Georgia Elementary and Middle School teachers was awarded an Innovation Grant provided by the Bay and Paul Foundation to construct a labyrinth in outdoor space at their school. 

Pam Easterday

Pam Easterday, Meditation Therapist

Pam Easterday, Meditation Therapist, gave a moving presentation entitled, “Finding the Inspiration Within Us,” which included breathing and meditation tools that can create both calm and awareness and allow the body’s own natural abilities to find balance, healing, and relaxation.

Rachael Gregory, VT Department of Health Nutritionist, addressed weight loss and fitness myths, along with suggestions for healthy snacks for both teachers and students.

Darrell Cole, a Chiropractor in Milton, provided useful advice on pain prevention and management by demonstrating techniques for being proactive in the way we sit with our electronic devices, as well as how we sleep–did you know sleeping on your stomach is the worst way to sleep? He included advice on the proper use of pillows when we sleep. And, if your backpack or purse weighs more than 5 pounds, not good!

Shannon Wright, Massage Therapist, provided massages to those that felt comfortable having massages–an important reminder that our ideas of wellness are very personal. Remember: One size does not fit all — and that’s okay!

New Blood Pressure Categories

Revised blood pressure guidelines published by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.

Merideth Plumpton, Vermont Department of Health Nurse emphasized the importance of adults seeing their doctors and dentists for recommended health visits and immunizations. She also shared the very recent blood pressure guidelines, which will surprise many people who thought they once had normal blood pressure.

The two-day Institute concluded with Samantha Thomas from Northwestern Counseling and Support Services providing connections between emotional and physical health and the importance of making those connections with and for each of our students and ourselves.

As planned, participants experienced new learning opportunities to develop tools to create an engaged, safe, supported, healthy, and academically resilient classroom. We are so grateful to our community partners who generously shared their expertise in building new habits, meditation, stress management, yoga, nutrition, and personal health and how their areas can be integrated into FWSU classroom routines.

Vermont Department of Health

Photo by Vermont Department of Health

Here is what participants had to say about their experiences:

  • “This was a great couple of days.  This was a really nice opportunity to think about the importance of mindfulness, health, and overall wellness!”
  • “I’ve so enjoyed learning new info that applies not just to my kids but also to me.”
  • “I found today to be very useful!”
  • “This was a very useful day.  I enjoyed hearing from different speakers, rather than just one.  It gave the day more variety.”
  • “The format of this session is so welcome at this time of year.  It is a stressful period for many between holidays and school obligations like conferences and report cards.”
  • “The variety:  We sat, we stood.  We listened and spoke.  I appreciated the diversity in presenters, too.  Finally, modeling reflection every turn of the way should make us self-aware.”
  • “I enjoyed walking the labyrinth.  The history of the labyrinth was interesting to learn.  I am interested in making/getting finger labyrinths for my students to use in the classroom.”
  •  “Loved practicality of Sam [Samantha Thomas].”

 And of course, everyone who had a massage loved it!

  •  “I really enjoyed Rise VT — we were involved and active — she had a lot of practical ideas that could be easily implemented into the classroom.  I loved the free goodies too.”
  •  “I loved learning about using yoga in the classroom.”
  •  “I really liked Rachael Gregory’s presentation and Jessica Frost.  All presentations that made me stop and think.”

THE FWSU STORY: New Teachers Focus on Wellness

FWSU’s New Teacher Program is designed to exceed the state’s requirements for mentoring new educators. During this 2-year program, new teachers receive differentiated support from mentors or mentor colleagues based on the level of experience they bring to our supervisory union.

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New FWSU Teachers participate in a Professional Practice Forum focused on wellness.

In their first year of the program, all teachers who are new the SU participate in the FWSU Professional Practice Forum. Each year, we use feedback from the previous cohort of new teachers to modify and adjust the program. Last years’ cadre of new teachers recommended a focus on teacher wellbeing. Toward this end, we have crafted a series of live meetings that alternate with online discussions to share new teaching practices featured in the book Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy D. Walker.  I chose this book because of its relaxed and readable framing of Finnish educational practices which celebrate and integrate holistic aspects of learning, including wellness and belonging. It also aligns with FWSU’s focus on global learning.

New educators discuss the book, "Teach Like Finland."

New educators discuss the book, “Teach Like Finland.”

For new FWSU teachers, this hybrid learning model begins each school year with a focus on becoming comfortable with their mentor, acclimating to their new school, and becoming familiar with Schoology, the Learning Management System we use for Professional Practice Forum.

Teachers review the material for the Professional Practice Forum.

Teachers review the material for the Professional Practice Forum.

In October we held our first live session with guest presenter, Marcy Perrotte. Marcy is a Special Educator at BFA Fairfax whose experiences as a new teacher led her to pursue graduate work focusing on teacher wellness. Teachers were able to weave their learning from Marcy’s presentation together with their initial reading from Teach Like Finland. 

Teachers participate in Professional Practice Forum.

New FWSU Teachers participate in Professional Practice Forum.

Teachers examined the practices outlined in the first chapter of the book that promoted the well-being of students. After their discussion, their assignment for the month was to “try-on” one of these practices in their own work setting. Teacher “try-ons,” which can be described as “high yield, low threat” changes in classroom practice, are a feature of each face-to-face session and designed to promote efficacy.

Wellness Wheel

The Wellness Wheel

After the book discussion, Marcy began her presentation with a “Stress and Wellness Poll.” After each teacher completed their own poll, the group did a quick gallery walk to discuss the findings.  Marcy shared the Wellness Wheel (from Northwest Missouri State University) with teachers, emphasizing the importance of personal wellness and techniques for managing stress.

Marcy ended the session by teaching a simple body scan technique called Stop Breathe and Think that teachers could use themselves and also teach to their students.

Special Educator Marcy Perrotte shares strategies for stress management.

Special Educator Marcy Perrotte shares strategies for stress management.

The session ended with a door prize of a Buddha Board, which Marcy used in her presentation. Marcy showed how simple water-based painting on the board reminds us that nothing is permanent, everything changes. She illustrated several ways both teachers and students could use the board for stress reduction. Mike Malinowski, the new guidance counselor at Georgia Elementary, was the winner.

Our next face-to-face session is in December. We look forward to welcoming FWSU Prevention and Wellness Coordinator Bonnie Poe to speak on the topic of stress reduction through time management.


Linda Keating

Linda Keating is the Director of Curriculum at FWSU. She is a regular contributor to the FWSU Blog. You can follow her on Twitter @Educate4ward

Fostering a Culture of Innovation and Wellness with #FWSU Launch 2.0

This year, FWSU will hold its second innovation challenge, #LaunchFWSU. After the success of last year’s challenge and the entrepreneurial spirit of our FWSU educators, we are looking forward to this year’s round of Launch applications.

Launch #FWSU

The second annual Launch Innovation Challenge was announced at the August inservice to the faculties of Georgia Elementary and Middle School, Fletcher Elementary, and BFA Fairfax.

Superintendent Ned Kirsch talks with staff.

Superintendent Ned Kirsch talks with staff about Launch 2.0 during inservice.

This year, FWSU revealed a new twist on the mini-grant challenges: #LaunchWellness. In addition to innovation mini-grant awards, this year six $500 Wellness mini-grants will be available for this new feature. FWSU is taking a creative and innovative approach to staff wellness through this challenge. Last year, FWSU created a Prevention and Wellness Leadership Team based on the components of the Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community Wellness Model (WSCC). The importance of staff wellness is highlighted in that model.

Wellness criteria

Teachers can pitch ideas for creating a culture of wellness in schools.

At our inservice kick-off, teachers were given time to network around both of these mini-grant challenges and think about what they would like to address through innovation using our four Action Plan Targets, as well as critical areas of staff wellness.

The Wellness Wheel

The Wellness Wheel

Applications for #LaunchFWSU and #LaunchWELLNESS are due Friday, September 15. #LaunchFWSU Teams will pitch their ideas to an expert panel of community partners on Thursday, September 28. #LaunchWELLNESS Teams will pitch their ideas to an expert panel of community partners on Monday, October 2.

FWSU Action Plan

The 4 Targets of the FWSU Action Plan

Stay tuned for a post in early October on the winning submissions!

FWSU Welcomes Bonnie Poe, Kicks Off “Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community” Model of Prevention and Wellness

FWSU recognizes the important role of health and well-being in student learning. We want to ensure that our schools can maximize their resources to ensure sustainable opportunities and services that promote health-enhancing behaviors and address risk factors. FWSU knows that our engaged community partnership are vital to the provision of a holistic approach to the health of our students and the communities of Fletcher, Fairfax, and Georgia.

Toward this end, FWSU is using the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model. This model has been developed through research and agency collaboration between the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to determine the best approaches we can use to create and support healthy learners. Both the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) and Agency of Education (AOE) are committed to promoting the use of WSCC model by their schools and community partners to improve population health and academic achievement outcomes. FWSU is confident the model will be fully integrated into the multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) for our learners.

wswc

This year, FWSU is pleased to welcome consultant Bonnie Poe to help us move this model forward in our schools and the community. As the Prevention and Wellness Coordinator, a contracted position funded by EPSDT, Bonnie will use the WSCC to develop, plan, and implement Prevention and Wellness activities at our schools and within the community. She will be collaborating with principals and school staffs, including classroom teachers, PE instructors, School Lunch Program Leaders, guidance, and nurses to implement initiatives and activities in the 10 areas of the Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community model. She will be working closely with the FWSU Substance Abuse Prevention (SAP) Counselor. She will also support the formation of school-based WSCC teams who will send representatives to the FWSU WSCC Team three times a year, which she will facilitate. She will be engaging key community members and parents to join that team, too!

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Bonnie Poe. FWSU Prevention & Wellness Coordinator

Bonnie brings a wealth of expertise to this position. Her undergraduate and graduate degrees are in special education from Georgia State University. She has 40 plus years of experience in public education, including 18 years as a school principal and 7 years as a director of student support services. More recently, Bonnie has worked as a SWIFT (School-Wide Integrated Framework for Transformation) Facilitator has received additional training in mentoring, instructional coaching, and the 4 stages of the change process. In addition, she is an Implementation Coach and Trainer for Vermont PBIS. Her consultancy here in FWSU allows her to give back to the educational community by being a positive collaborator, building trusting relationships with all members the school community, and being a resource for creating sustainable effective systems.

You can follow the progress of our schools in using the WSCC model through posts shared by Bonnie with the FWSU community throughout the year.

Target 4. Engaged Community Partners: FWSU staff and students engage in authentic learning opportunities with local, regional, state, and global partners to make a difference in their community, state, and world.

BFA Fairfax High School Students Welcome Wellness Breaks!

Target 3. Flexible Learning Environments: FWSU will maximize flexible learning environments by redefining the school day, promoting learning experiences that extend beyond the school classroom, and fostering creativity, innovation, and differentiated learning opportunities for all.

Action Step 4: Increase access to resources for all students using digital tools making learning more accessible for diverse learners.

Indicator of Success: Staff, students and community embrace digital, social, mobile and “always on” learning style of 21st century students.

Stop by the high school at BFA Fairfax any afternoon between 1:15 and 1:30 and you will see students involved in a variety of activities throughout the building. This is our daily Wellness Break! 

Students have the opportunity to play basketball in the gym…

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stretch out with some yoga…

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relax with “mindful” coloring…

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collaborate on a crossword puzzle…

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have a mini jam session…

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or take a walk around the building or connect with friends for a few minutes.

High school teachers volunteer to supervise the activities which allow them to connect with students in a different way. Students are enjoying the chance to take a “brain break” in the afternoon and have reacted positively to the change in schedule:

“Wellness break gives me a chance to gather myself before the last class of the day”

 

“It breaks up the afternoon and helps me focus in class at the end of the day.”

Students have been invited to suggest activities for future wellness breaks. We hope that students continue to participate and benefit from this change of routine that helps to wake up their brain each afternoon in the high school at BFA.